It had finally happened. The first monumental step back toward normalcy was taken. The NBA announced its circumstantial return. The plan revolved around creating a campus of sorts for players, their families and all necessary staff at Disney World in Orlando Florida. Sports fans breathed a sigh of relief and even those not invested in the realm of athletics took it as a sign that the world they once knew may be coming back.
Kyrie Irving, star point guard of the Brooklyn Nets has taken an issue with this plan of return. Irving has gone as far as to mobilize any and all NBA players feeling similarly. This, now mobilized group, appears dead set on either seeing to it that the rest of the season does not come to fruition, or that if it does the current plan is changed.
Covid-19 remains a relatively unknown disease. It is certainly not unreasonable that players are not willing to risk their well being as well as the well being of their loved ones for the sake of entertainment. On the evening of June 12, 2020 Irving has a conference call with over eighty NBA players including the likes of Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchel to discuss the possibility of refusing to return to play. The names present are indicative of the level of player from whom these concerns are coming. Some estimates indicate that over 60% of high profile NBA players are less than willing to return. A boycott seems possible.
The use of a boycott certainly has precedent in NBA history. In 1964 Oscar Robertson led one right before the All Star game was to take place. The result? The NBA players union was born. In 2014 the Clippers hid their logos during warm ups to protest the ownership of Donald Sterling. The result? That racist scumbag who doesn’t even deserve to lick an NBA player’s shoes is no longer affiliated with the league.
The optics of white billionaires compelling their black players to play during a dangerous pandemic isn’t great. The motivating factor isn’t a love of competition or a desire to create normalcy for the masses. The motivating factor is maintaining the promised income. Irving is clearly reacting to this in saying, “whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.” Irving for one feels used. He feels further that his peers are also being used in the current scenario. Irving believes, it would seem, that that the plight of black Americans can better be fought by NBA players if they choose not to play.
Irving never stood to play. A shoulder injury has him sidelined for the remainder of the season. Furthermore, while Irving will lose 6-7 million dollars in income should the league not resume play, that amount of money likely means little to someone with 141 million safely in the bank. The steepest financial hits will go to the minimum players. These individuals risk losing the rest of this years income. They also risk the possibility of the future income. A decision to hold out will undoubtedly trigger a new collective bargaining negotiation.
Money equals choices. It is harder to make the choice to fight social injustice when money fears are an issue. Lakers mega star LeBron James has been fastly on the side of returning to play. According to James, social reform can be achieved while games are played. He sees the return to play as a platform to further expose the nation to the Black Lives Matter cause.
No right answer is immediately apparent. The health of the players and their right to feel empowered as people and not commoditized by their employers is paramount. It will not be for fans to dictate the outcome of this process, but to be supportive. Athletes are people first. They are cornerstones of our society whose entertainment we depend on. They have enormous salaries that they earn for providing that entertainment. Before anything however they are people like any of us. Perhaps that’s what Kyrie Irving wants us to see.